Posted: November 4, 2008
The 2008-09 season marks the 100th season of wrestling at Lehigh University. One of the most successful programs in the history of college wrestling, Lehigh enters its centennial season under new leadership as Bethlehem native Pat Santoro returns home as the eighth head coach in program history. Santoro spent nine years as an assistant at Lehigh, including eight under Greg Strobel, and was a part of some of the most successful teams in program annals.
The challenge for Santoro is to resurrect a Lehigh program which is coming off its first losing dual meet season in 12 years. The Mountain Hawks have not produced an All-American in the last two seasons and finished fifth in the EIWA just two years removed from a string of five straight team titles; but still there is plenty of reason for optimism as Santoro inherits a team loaded with young talent.
“Everything has been very positive since I’ve been here,” says Santoro. “The guys are excited to go out and compete. They have a great vision. They talk about wanting to win championships. That’s what you want to see in a program.”
Despite their relative youth, the Mountain Hawks do return six grapplers, who have previously qualified for the NCAA Championships. Leading the way are co-captains Trevor Chinn and Matt Fisk. Chinn, a two-time qualifier at 149, is expected to be the only senior in the starting lineup while Fisk, who qualified as a true freshman and sophomore, returns to the Mountain Hawks lineup as a junior after deferring his eligibility last season. Junior Seth Ciasulli returns as a two-time qualifier, while sophomore Alex Caruso capped off his debut season with a strong showing at Nationals.
In addition, the Lehigh lineup should be bolstered by the return of David Craig, as well as highly touted freshmen John McDonald, Sean Bilodeau and Zach Rey who all had strong deferred years last season.
“We have a very young but talented team,” notes Santoro. “If they’re excited about wrestling and want to learn and get better, this team is capable of doing some very good things. If they believe in themselves and become a true team, we can have a good season.”
Like his predecessor Greg Strobel, Santoro is not backing down in his scheduling. The Mountain Hawks will wrestle three teams who finished in the top ten at the NCAA Championships last year and a total of five teams who finished in the top 20.The home slate features a season opening matchup with Maryland as well as an early season visit by Michigan to Stabler Arena. For the second straight year Lehigh will make return trips to the Journeymen/Brute Northeast Duals and the prestigious Virginia Duals. The Mountain Hawks will also compete in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational for the first time since 2001 and will have road duals against longtime foes Pittsburgh, Penn State and Navy.
“Our goal is always to face the best competition so we can continue to improve,” explains Santoro. “Our main goal is the month of March, and that is what we will train for. The goals in the program remain the same. We want to be successful academically and athletically and we want All-Americans and National Champions.”
Here’s a weight by weight look at what to expect from the Mountain Hawks in 2008-09:
125 – Deferred freshman John McDonald is expected to step in at this weight class. McDonald, a three-time Delaware state champion in high school, wrestles an exciting style and exhibits terrific competitiveness. He did not compete in open tournaments due to injury last year, but did enjoy a strong spring on the freestyle circuit. Sophomores Mitch Berger and Kellen Aura were thrown into the mix as true freshmen, and impressed with their fight and work ethic.
133 – Junior captain Matt Fisk returns to the Mountain Hawks lineup after deferring his eligibility while moving up a weight class. A two-time NCAA Qualifier at 125, Fisk went 12-1 last season while competing unattached in open tournaments. Freshman Patrick Wieger or one of the backup 125 pounders could fill a backup role here if need be. Incumbent Seth Ciasulli is expected to bump up to 141.
141 – Ciasulli, a two-time NCAA qualifier will bump up to replace the departed Jeff Santo, while allowing Matt Fisk to move back into the lineup at 133. Now a junior, Ciasulli led the Brown and White with eight falls in 2007-08. Sophomores Nate Spangler saw mat time at this weight class last year, and could fill a backup role, as could two-time North Carolina State Champion Justin Koren and freshman Shane Welsh.
149 – Senior captain Trevor Chinn enjoyed a bounce back year in 2007-08, leading the team with 29 victories and qualifying for his second NCAA tournament. Chinn’s presence could give Lehigh three two-time NCAA Qualifiers in the lineup from 133-149. Sophomore Kyle Rosser could see time in a back-up role and the Mountain Hawks have also brought in two talented freshmen in National Prep Champion Josh Fitch and Dane Stevens, who won a title at the Reno Tournament of Champions, who could vie for time at this weight class.
157 – With the graduation of EIWA Champion Dave Nakasone, there could be plenty of competition at this weight. Deferred freshman Sean Bilodeau could get the first crack at the starting spot, but could be challenged by classmate Brian Tanen. Both wrestlers showed positive signs in open tournament competition last season. Sophomore Tim Buirkle could also be in the mix here as well.
165 – A good battle could ensue between incumbent junior Mike Galante and deferred freshman Brandon Hatchett. Galante started every dual for the Mountain Hawks last season, winning 17 bouts and placing sixth in the EIWA at his weight class. A strong freestyle performer, Galante won his second straight University National title in 2008. He will be challenged by Hatchett, a three-time Florida state champion who has impressed with his skill and potential in the wrestling room.
174 – Alex Caruso returns for his sophomore season after a strong freshman campaign where he emerged as one of Lehigh’s most consistent wrestlers. Caruso won 26 bouts and finished one win shy of the All-American Round of 12 at the NCAA tournament. He could be pushed by versatile junior Manuel Schubert, who was one of last year’s most pleasant surprises after joining the starting lineup in February and qualifying for the NCAA tournament at 184. Senior Samir Soriano will bring additional depth to this weight class, while sophomore Dave Chirichello and freshman Robert Hamlin could also fill a reserve role.
184 – Junior David Craig returns to the Mountain Hawks lineup after missing the second half of last season due to academics. Craig has gotten his grades back on track and now looks to regain the form that saw him win 31 matches and reach the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships as a true freshman. Manuel Schubert qualified for Nationals at this weight last year and could figure in the mix as well. With junior Andy Knerr, sophomore Kadeem Samuels and freshmen Jim Mutch, Robert Prigmore and Kevin Bailey also competing for mat time, this could prove to be one of Lehigh’s deepest weights.
197 – Alex Iacocca took one for the team last year, bumping up two weight classes to fill a hole in the Lehigh lineup. After steadily improving throughout the season, Iacocca returns as the incumbent in his junior season. He will be challenged by promising freshman Joe Kennedy, who captured a Pennsylvania State title as a senior. Providing depth at this weight class will be senior Jamie O’Dowd and freshman Mike Mutch.
285 – Lehigh has two capable heavyweights in junior Justin Allen and deferred freshman Zach Rey. Allen started every dual last season and racked up 18 victories. Rey enjoyed an outstanding deferred year, despite not stepping on the mats competitively until February. A knee injury limited Rey’s open competition to one tournament, where he went 5-2 and placed fourth, but his real potential was seen in the spring time when he won the Northeast Senior Freestyle Tournament and qualified for the Olympic Trials, where he competed in June.
Lehigh opens the 2008-09 season on Sunday when the Mountain Hawks host the 17th ranked Maryland Terrapins. The match gets underway at 1 p.m. from Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. Tickets can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, visiting the Lehigh ticket office located in Grace Hall or by visiting the link above.